“Here we are, home sweet home,” said Rainbow as the two pegasus ponies alighted on the cloud from which her house was shaped.
“You have such a lovely house, Rainbow! It takes me back to Cloudsdale every time I see it. It’s like a piece of the city broke off and drifted over to Ponyville!”
“That’s ‘cause it kinda did,” Rainbow admitted. “It is a piece of Cloudsdale. I just... moved it. I, uh, I wanted a reminder of the place, I guess.”
“The rainbow cascades are my favourite part,” Fluttershy added as she glided over a gap to the pool of swirling rainbow that formed one of the cascades' lower reservoirs. She spotted a murder of crows flying by and beckoned them over. Dipping the tip of her tail in the rainbow pool, she waited until the crows flew directly overhead before whipping it out in a wide arc, suddenly transforming the birds’ black feathers into a palette of brilliant colours. She giggled as the suddenly coquettish birds broke formation, swirling around each other admiringly, in a kaleidoscope of vivid rainbow hues.
“Fluttershy... do you ever think of... of going back to Cloudsdale someday?”
“Hmm?” The yellow pegasus was still waving at the receding flock of suddenly joyous crows. “Oh, no. I visit once in a while -- my family lives there after all -- but Ponyville is my home now. All my friends are here... even the pony ones!” She giggled at her own joke, then stepped to the very edge of the cloud to take in the sweeping sight of Ponyville spread out below. “I wouldn’t leave this for the world,” she sighed happily.
“Yeah.... I figured you’d say that.” Rainbow’s smile stayed fixed, but she could feel that it didn’t reach her eyes anymore. She stared down at the bit of cloud-stuff between her forehooves. Then why’d you have to ask, huh?
“So,” she said, pulling her head up and trotting over to open the door, “as I was about to say, come on iiii...!” She shut the door. Holding up a hoof, she flashed a nervous smile at Fluttershy. “Actually, hang on just one sec....”
Rainbow opened the door a crack, slipped through, and promptly shut the door behind her. She quickly darted about, leaving a criss-crossing rainbow streak in her wake as she gathered up discarded containers, stray balls, Tank’s flying harness, piled-up books and other sundry debris and quickly stuffed them into a closet. She had to push hard to force the door closed, and it bulged and creaked ominously, but at least the floor was clear. She winged herself over to the front door and opened it.
“Come on in!” She waved her friend into the wide, open atrium that made up the centre of every Neo-Classical Cloudsdale home. Above them, the open shaft gave unrestricted access to the second floor before a ceiling cut off further ascent.
Fluttershy took a step over the threshold and started at the click her hoof made on contact with the floor.
“This is new! You’ve put flooring down everywhere. When did this happen?”
“When I got Tank. He can’t walk on clouds, so I had to put flooring in on all three levels and re-do the bedroom stairs. And pad out the cloud a bit more to boost the lift.”
“Oh, of course! I never even thought.... I could have helped, you know. It must have been so much work.” She looked downcast.
“Don’t sweat it, Fluttershy! Tank helped out a lot -- it was for his own good, after all!”
Fluttershy still seemed to feel a little guilty. “I guess I don’t drop by to visit as much as I should: that was an awfully long time ago....”
“Really, it’s cool! I see you lots, right? It balances out!” Rainbow drifted back across the atrium, inviting her friend to follow.
Soooo... what are you supposed to do when you have guests over? Rainbow racked her brains frantically. “D-do you want something to drink? I got... hang on --” Rainbow shot across the atrium into the kitchen and rifled through her icebox, crafted of woven cirrus clouds. Long strands of ice-crystal clouds unfurled about her, waving around like kelp in an underwater current.
“I got... hay-flavoured protein shakes?” She held up a can with a not-too-hopeful smile as Fluttershy hesitantly peeked in from the atrium. “They really do taste just like hay...?”
“...I think I’ll pass -- if that’s OK.”
“Well, I got... uh, this....” Rainbow held up an unlabeled clear bottle filled with a violently pink fluid. “Pinkie gave this to me after a party. She called it ‘Gummy-ade.’ I think she makes it herself.... A-and she said it would ‘fill a pony with so much pep--’ ”
“ ‘--That she’d just pop,’ ” Fluttershy finished for her, shrinking back a little further, ears drooping. Rainbow realised that she had been subconsciously holding the bottle at legs’ length.
“You got one too?”
Fluttershy nodded nervously.
“And did you ever... try yours?”
Fluttershy gave a frightened shake of her head.
Only then did the two ponies notice that the fluid was turning a deep violet, the colour spreading out from where Rainbow’s hooves were touching the bottle, and that bubbles were beginning to form along the inner surface of the glass. Without another word, Rainbow gently lowered the bottle back into the ice-box and carefully shock-packed it with cloud, for safety. With Pinkie Pie, you just never knew.
Rainbow gave an embarrassed chuckle. “Sorry, Fluttershy, I guess I’m not as well-stocked as I thought.”
“Oh, that’s quite alright, Rainbow. I wasn’t really thirsty anyway....”
“Wait! I think I’ve got --” Rainbow folded the ice-box shut and thrust a foreleg deep into the cloud out of which her house was built, rummaging around. Finally, she pulled out a double hoof-full of cloud, but this was not the white cloud which composed her home. Rather, it was dark grey and heavy with unshed rain.
“Ha!” she exulted, “I knew I had a bit left over! We had a little surplus rain after the last downpour, so we all took some home. Being in the Weather Service has a few advantages. Who’s up for fresh-squeezed rain?”
Fluttershy brightened visibly. “Goodness! I haven’t tasted pure rain since I moved out of Cloudsdale. I’d love some.”
“Done! Let me just find some clean glasses....” Rainbow used her tail to flick a dishcloth over the ugly pile of unwashed dishes lurking in the sink before Fluttershy could catch sight of it. “Uh, why don’t you just head on up to the dining room and lie down while I get everything ready?”
After what seemed like an interminable time spent rummaging around, all the while telling herself to clean up more often in the future, Rainbow glided out of the kitchen carrying a large bowl filled with a few folds of cirrus into which were thrust two glasses, each with its own drinking straw. She had the raincloud tucked under her chin. She flapped up the central shaft to the second floor.
Fluttershy was already reclining on one of the three cloud-sculpted klinai, or chaises longues, that made up Rainbow’s small dining room. Arranged in a U-shape, they afforded the diners, through the open French doors, an excellent view of the cloudscape stretching out behind the house.
“Here we go,” announced Rainbow, setting the bowl down on the small circular dining table placed in the middle of the klinai. The rain cloud floated lazily between them. “Aw, look,” she continued, “we don’t have to be all formal. Hang on a bit....”
Rainbow hooked a hind leg under one kline and sent it spinning away, backwards and upwards. It bounced gently off the wall and drifted up to the high ceiling, still slowly spinning around its long axis. She then spun the third kline around so that both of them could recline in the same direction, face-to-face across the table.
“Oh! I wasn’t expecting that,” giggled Fluttershy, surprised.
“It’s the flooring,” Rainbow explained. “None of the klinai are anchored anymore, so they’re pretty easy to move around. The drifting felt a bit weird at first, but it’s kinda convenient. Hey, what’s a triclinion minus one, a biclinion or a diclinion?”
“I have no idea,” laughed Fluttershy. “Pre-Classical languages were never my strong suit. We’ll have to ask Twilight one day.”
Fluttershy smiled in appreciation as Rainbow took the raincloud in both forehooves and, holding it over one of the glasses, carefully squeezed it, causing a light drizzle of rain to fall into the glass. Once the glass was about three-quarters full, she released the pressure, allowing the rain to cease, before moving the somewhat-diminished cloud over to the next glass and repeating the procedure.
“You have such deft hooves,” said Fluttershy admiringly. “I remember never being able to squeeze rain out properly. It never rained but it poured, I guess you could say,” she tittered, “and then I’d have to move the cloud from one glass to the other as quickly as I could -- which didn’t really make a difference, since half the rain would fall around the glass!”
“Mes-sy,” Rainbow teased, laughing. “Like I said, being in the Weather Service has some advantages. Practice makes perfect!”
She gave the lightened cloud a gentle tap, sending it floating up to a higher altitude, and rotated the bowl so that each mare had a glass facing her. Condensation was creeping up the sides of the glasses, from contact with the cirrus strands.
Both ponies sipped gently on the straws.
“You’re right,” Rainbow declared, “there is a special taste to pure rainwater, isn’t there?”
“I think it’s more that there aren’t any other tastes mixed in. It’s straight from the factory. Everything else we drink is still mostly water, after all. This is nothing but water.”
“One more great thing to come out of Cloudsdale,” said Rainbow. She dropped her eyes to her glass, suddenly feeling a little sad. Stop bringing that up, alright?
“We ought to get our friends to taste this someday,” mused Fluttershy. “I suppose we could try to collect rainwater -- as long as we caught it in clean glass containers, it shouldn’t change the taste. But I do like the squeezing part. Do you often have leftovers after rainfalls?”
“Huh?” Rainbow snapped back to attention. “Uh, not usually. We try to use it all up -- the plants need it to grow, right? Only we had to cut the last downpour short ‘cause the snowmelt had swollen the dam reservoir a bit more than we’d figured, so they had to increase the outflow into the river.... We didn’t want to flood the fields!”
“Oh, well. I suppose we could just import some from Cloudsdale....”
The conversation lulled. Both ponies sipped their drinks in silence. Fluttershy sipped with her eyes closed and a foreleg up to keep her flowing mane out of her face.
Her raised leg drew Rainbow’s gaze down it and along her friend’s body. Her wing was half-opened to help maintain her balance. She was lying on her left flank, her right hind leg draped decoratively over the left, with her tail criss-crossing over the soft curves of hindquarters like a pink river winding through rounded yellow hills.
How does she do that? It’s not like she tries to strike a pose or anything, but she always ends up looking like... like artwork or something. It’s not like she looks cool, exactly, more... nice? Pretty? Yeah, ‘pretty,’ I guess....
Rainbow shifted uncomfortably on the kline, curling her tail back over her own body. She felt oddly exposed. Her eyes slid off Fluttershy’s body and focused instead on the end of her tail, which went over the edge of the kline and actually touched the flooring.
Does she really wear tail extensions? How do you extend a tail, anyway? It’s not a unicorn magic thing, right? Can you just glue extra bits on, or what?
The end of Fluttershy’s tail was still coated with rainbow. It made Rainbow Dash smile. Heh, our tails look the same, now. Her eyes went over to her own tail. They did look similar... save for her own tail’s unruly bushiness, or the tangles she hadn’t bothered to brush out that morning, or the scattered leaves and twigs she must have picked up when she crashed into the library tree and hadn’t even noticed --
She flicked her tail out of sight behind her. They didn’t look the same after all. She gave a short sigh, and turned back to her glass.
Fluttershy was looking at her. Rainbow gave a small start in surprise, which caused Fluttershy’s eyes snap up to her face. Their gazes held for a heartbeat before her friend blushed and cast her eyes down with an timid smile. Rainbow leaned back and stared at the ceiling, where the remnants of the raincloud were slowing orbiting the third kline. She tried to think of something to say, but couldn’t come up with a topic.
Why is this so hard? We could always talk before! Like when we.... That time when we....
But Rainbow found that she couldn’t clearly remember the last time they had talked. She could remember hanging out with Pinkie Pie plenty of times, or with Applejack. She had even stayed up half the night with Twilight once, chatting about Daring-Do. But when was the last time that she and Fluttershy had really talked?
Waiting in line for cider doesn’t exactly count, does it? Or getting your ear talked off about butterflies when you’re thinking about racing? ...Does that mean Fluttershy was thinking about butterflies all those times we were talking about flying? She’s never really been into flying....
Rainbow bit her lip. Her stomach had just given a small lurch, as though she’d flown into an unexpected low-pressure pocket. Her oldest friend was lying just across the table from her, and yet Rainbow felt a little lonely.
A slight slurping sound caught her attention: Fluttershy had just emptied her glass. Rainbow quickly leaned forward and drained the last third that remained in her own glass.
“Well, that was lovely,” said Fluttershy, sitting up, “but I guess we really should get started on your hooves.”
Rainbow’s heart skipped a beat. “Uh, yeah....”
“Where do you keep your grooming kit?”
“It’s in --” Rainbow remembered her overstuffed closet. “Oh. Just wait here, and I’ll grab it....”
Rainbow cautiously descended towards the bulging door. With the pastern of her left foreleg pressed thoughtfully under her chin, she carefully examined the dangerously distended door, shifting first to the left to check how far the it had stretched out from the frame before returning to centre. Biting down on her lower lip, she wiped the sweat out of her eyes with the back of her right foreleg. Rearing up on her hind legs, Rainbow rubbed her forehooves together, brows furrowed and tongue stuck out in concentration as she pondered how best to approach the precariously unstable system before her. Then she sagged a little, her features set in a resigned expression.
Yeah, right. Not with my luck. Suck it up, Rainbow Crash.
She reached out and tapped the door handle with a hoof, and was immediately swallowed up by an avalanche of debris, household goods and sporting equipment. A single red ball covered in white stars bounced out of the wreckage and rolled across the room.